Retrospective: SimTower

When I was young and not having to worry about my diet or bills or loans or getting a job or taking horrifically terrible exams, I played a lot of computer games, and at the time the Sim series of games was massively popular. Sort of like how it is now, only The Sims blessedly did not exist (even after 15 years I don’t understand the appeal of The Sims. A smaller, duller version of my own already boring life? Amazing! The only fun thing about The Sims is building a death trap house and watching its eight luckless inhabitants slowly go insane and/or die.)

(Don’t look at me like that. Everyone who’s ever owned The Sims has done that at least once.)

No, back in the 90s, the Sim series was known for SimCity, and namely for the far improved sequel SimCity 2000 that confusingly came out in 1993. But the Sim series didn’t stop at cities: you could also build your own farm, ant colony or really terrible-looking helicopter. One of the more successful of these spinoff titles was SimTower, a game that Maxis published in the West on behalf of weirdo Japanese game designer Yoot Saito in 1994.

Finally, the chance to recreate the shitty office building you work in

Finally, the chance to recreate the shitty office building you work in!

SimTower, on its face, is simple. It’s a 2D building management game. The general formula you’ll follow goes like so: build a lobby, build offices/hotel rooms/condos and rent/sell them to your tenants, build restaurants and shops for your tenants and outside visitors both to enjoy.

You’ll quickly learn, however, that building management is a frustrating job. Office workers and condo tenants placed too close to restaurants will complain about the noise. All your tenants will complain about travel time, especially if they have to navigate a circuitous route down stairs and elevators to get where they’re going (and it will be impossible not to build these kinds of paths if your building is greater than 15 stories tall.) Your businesses will be happy and pay you rent as long as they’re in the black, but if they’re doing poorly, they’ll lose money for you and become a drain on your funds. Condos are a great way to make a one-time profit for a quick cash influx, but they’re also difficult to maintain and take up a lot of space. Offices and hotel rooms are at least guaranteed income as long as they are occupied, but if the general happiness of the tenants falls enough, you’ll have to push the rents and rates down to keep them in your building. Forget the tower: at its core, SimTower is a happiness management simulator.

If someone is red, it means they're pissed off, possibly because they're having to wait three hours to ride an elevator.  You will see a lot of red people as you play SimTower.

If someone is red, it means they’re pissed off, possibly because they’re having to wait three hours to ride an elevator. You will see a lot of red people as you play SimTower.

All of the above might make SimTower seem like a chore to play, but it’s not. It’s strangely satisfying to watch new tenants snap up the offices and other properties you place in your tower as it rises to the skies. The game features a tiered rewards system that unlocks new properties and services for you to use as your tower’s population increases. And, like every good Sim game, SimTower features random scenarios: the arrival of a VIP who will cast judgment upon your tower at the end of his visit, outbreaks of fire, and even terrorist bomb threats.

It also has day/night cycles!  Well, it's not that impressive considering the relative primitiveness of the graphics, but still.

It also has day/night cycles! Well, it’s not that impressive considering the relative primitiveness of the graphics, but still.

Although I doubt very much that it even came close to the success of SimCity, SimTower sold well enough to inspire a sequel, Yoot Tower. Yoot Tower came out in 1998 and added some new features while keeping the same old visual style and general concept of its predecessor. While it might have done well in its home country, though, Yoot Tower seems to have been a flop in the US. Maybe it looked and played too similar to SimTower to be accepted as a truly new title. Or maybe it was the fact that the economy of Yoot Tower is completely fucked, with certain building options being guaranteed money-losers no matter what. I still like the game, probably just out of nostalgia for the original, but Yoot Tower feels like a broken remake of SimTower. Thankfully, Yoot Saito would move on to make Seaman and Odama and other bizarre titles that had nothing to do with buildings.

Don't even bother with the ramen shop.  It sucks.  Must have gotten bad reviews online.

Don’t even bother with the ramen shop. It sucks. Must have gotten bad reviews online.

Despite the fact that SimTower is now 20 years old, the game is still fun and holds up pretty well. Best of all, both SimTower and its sequel seem to qualify as abandonware now, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find them online and play them through a virtual machine (though I believe both can actually run on Windows 7/8, which is amazing.) At any rate, SimTower isn’t on Steam, which is really a shame: it would make for a great download for five dollars or so. Especially considering the fact that, unlike SimCity and The Sims, the SimTower concept hasn’t truly been improved upon from the 1994 original. Unless I’ve missed something, which is entirely possible.

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5 thoughts on “Retrospective: SimTower

    • I feel like a sequel would be expected to be 3D. It could work, maybe; might be awkward, but I’d like to see a try.

      But I think Maxis and EA are too wrapped up in their cash cow The Sims to care about much anything else, sadly.

      • Well, never mind – Yoot Tower had nothing to do with Maxis; they didn’t even publish it. And there’s something called OpenTower apparently that a lot of people are developing that’s supposed to build on the framework of the original SimTower, so that could be something interesting.

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